Historic California Posts, Camps,
Stations and Airfields
Air Station, Arcata
(Landing Aids Experiment Station, Arcata;Coast
Guard Air Station, Humboldt Bay)
NAAS Arcata Circa
1943 (National Archives)
History I by M.L. Shettle, Jr.
In 1939, the U.S. government sent a survey
team north from San Francisco to find sites within one mile of
the coast that could accommodate a 5,000-ft. runway. In the 400
miles to the Oregon border, only two sites were found -- Arcata
and Crescent City. In early 1943, the Navy leased 442 acres, seven
miles north of Arcata, to build an auxiliary air station. The
area, known as Dows Prairie, had a grass air strip. During construction,
the coast highway, U.S. 101, had to be relocated to accommodate
the runways. The station's commissioning took place on July 7,
1943, as an auxiliary of Alameda.
Unfortunately, after the Navy opened the
station, it discovered that Arcata had the third foggiest weather
in the world. On occasion, fog would set in for weeks at a time.
As a result, the Navy failed to achieve the maximum intended utilization
of the station, but did take advantage of the situation by conducting
fog dispersal experiments. Arcata was initially planned as a base
for 24 Ventura patrol bombers. The first operational unit on board,
how ever, was the utility squadron VJ-2 that arrived in December
1943. VJ-2's complement consisted of five Avengers, six JMs, one
J2F Duck, and one R50. In the summer of 1944, VS-71 with 11 SBDs
was on board. For the remainder of the war, Arcata served as a
rocket training facility for squadrons and air groups from Santa
Rosa. The training was conducted by a detachment of Santa Rosa's
CASU 36. In September 1944, CASU 36 had 15 F6F Hellcats. Four
months later, CASU 36's aircraft consisted of 11 FM-2s, one SBD,
and 12 Avengers. CASU 36's activities diminished and ended before
Located 290 miles north of San Francisco,
Arcata had one 6,000-ft. and one 4,500-ft. asphalt runway. An
additional runway, previously planned, was canceled. In March
1944, station personnel numbered 153 officers and 532 enlisted
men with barracks for 180 officers and 732 men. The station had
a 128 x 160-ft. Kodiak hangar plus gun emplacements around the
airfield. Arcata's station planes consisted of two GH Howard ambulance
planes and one GB Staggerwing Beech.
Following the war, the area's bad weather
served some useful purpose with the establishment of the Landing
Aids Experiment Station. This unit was a joint project of the
Army, the Navy, and the CAA that experimented with low visibility
landings. United Airlines served as the prime contractor of the
project. The most novel method was the "Fog Intensity Dispersal
Of' or FIDO that involved the burning of gasoline along the sides
of the runway to lift the fog. The British first used FIDO during
the war when 157 Lancaster bombers landed at Heathrow during zero/zero
weather. The simplest method consisted of burning the fuel in
open trench es alongside the runway. The best results were obtained
by burning from pressurized nozzles positioned every 50 ft. down
the runway edge. Unfortunately, it took 20,000 gals. to sufficiently
raise the fog for each landing. Gasoline cost alone was $15,000
per landing -- plus an additional $10,000 per landing for the
system's maintenance. Not only was the cost prohibitive, but the
system only worked on 150-ft. wide runways. When used on 200-ft.
wide runways, the fog merely lifted from the sides and settled
onto the center. Finally, the effort concentrated on the electronic-guided
ILS. Arcata had the first ILS system in California that was eventually
certified down to zero/zero. The government closed the experimental
station in 1950 and deeded the property to the County.
In 1977, the Coast Guard opened an air station
at the airport -- today, known as Arcata Eureka Municipal. Several
Navy structures have survived. The foggy weather has lessened
over the years.
The planning and construction of what
we now know as the Arcata-Eureka Airport started in late 1940
or early 1941. It appears that the County of Humboldt, in collaboration
with the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA, the predecessor
to the FAA), decided to construct a new airport. The Times-Standard
column entitled, North Coast Yesterdays reports that in
August 2, 1941... "According to officials in Washington,
the area north of McKinleyville is to become the site of a modern
airport. The development is planned for the area between the
ocean and the Redwood Highway near Clam Beach."
At this time I cannot confirm the exact
reason why the airport was being constructed in such a remote
location. An airport near Eureka already existed. However, I
have heard that this new airport was part of a larger plan by
the United States War Department to establish airfields that
could be used by the military in times of war. In any event,
it appears this airport was to be a civilian airport.
Construction of the airport was underway
when the United States entered World War II in December, 1941.
By 1942, the United States government took control of the airport
and the US Navy continued construction of what was to become
a Naval Auxiliary Air Station. This NAAS was administratively
part of the Alameda Naval Air Station, which was being built
near San Francisco. Thereafter, the airport near Dows Prairie
was called Naval Air Auxiliary Station, Arcata (NAAS Arcata).
As near as I can tell, the mission of
NAAS, Arcata was pilot training, coastal defense, and a place
for aircraft flown off of aircraft carriers returning from the
Pacific theater. Later in the war it also became a place to test
fog dispersal equipment. An additional purpose of airports like
NAAS Arcata was assistance in cross-country navigation.
Examination of leftover Navy construction
blueprints reveals that the airport underwent two construction
phases (three, if you count the installation of the fog dispersal
test equipment). The problem was that the weather was very bad
in the Aleutian Islands, so bad that airplanes often could not
take-off or land. In particular, the fog at the airfields up
there was very bad (worse than it is here in Humboldt County).
The Army and the Navy were very interested
in methods of fog dispersal. So, in 1943 a member of the War
Department toured airfields in England were devices to burn off
fog were being tested. These methods were tried at an airfield
in Alaska with some success.
The Navy was interested in conducting
further fog dispersal tests at an airfield that was not in a
war zone. Because of the upwelling of deep, cold water off of
the Northern California, thick fog formed along the coast. It
turned out that NAAS, Arcata was in the thick of this fog, so
to speak. Therefore, the Navy chose this place to conduct the
fog tests. FIDO was born.
FIDO was installed and testing began in
1945. The war in the Pacific ended in August, 1945, and the Navy
deactivated in May 1946, although they still had ownership of
the property. In 1947, FIDO testing resumed under a consortium
of entities, including the US Government and United Airlines.
The airport was now know as Landing Aids Experiment Station-Arcata
(LAES-Arcata). Fog-dispersal operations continued at LAES-Arcata
until the end of 1949.
By 1950 the airport was given to the County
of Humboldt by the US government.
Extract, US Army Air Forces Directory
of Airfields (January 1945)
Coast Guard Air Station, Humboldt Bay
Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay is
based in Humboldt Bay, California at the Arcata Airport (KACV).
The air station and group offices are located at the Arcata/Eureka
airport in McKinleyville, CA. CGAS Humboldt Bay operates three
HH-65A "Dolphin" helicopters off the Coast Guard ramp.
The Coast Guard commissioned Air Station Humboldt Bay in June,
Humboldt Bay, California is the last in
a series of harbors on the West Coast of the United States being
developed as a deep water port to service the Pacific Rim and
other international ports of call. The Eureka/Arcata Airport
(Airport code ACV) is a small, regional airport located about
20 miles north of Eureka. It is currently served by two airlines.
Alaska Airlines flies between the Eureka/Arcata airport, Seattle,
Washington, Portland, Oregon and Redding, California via its
Horizon Airlines subsidiary. United Airlines flies between the
Eureka/Arcata airport, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco and Sacramento,
California, via its United Express subsidiary.